Janoris Jenkins was going to be skipped over by some NFL franchises as many times as those teams had draft picks in 2012. Less than a year after the draft, Jenkins’ name is mentioned among the candidates to win the Defensive Rookie of the Year award. Most, if not all, of the teams that scratched him off of their draft boards are unsurprised.
If they’re at all astonished, it’s because they expected Jenkins to get himself into trouble and miss time due to league-mandated suspension.
The book was out on Jenkins well before April: He was a prospect with undeniably elite cover skills and a history of off-field incidents. The latter forced him out of the first round, rendering him a bargain—from a talent perspective—for the NFL team that selected him last spring.
In a way, the skeptical franchises were right: Jenkins wasn’t suspended by the commissioner’s office, but head coach Jeff Fisher told him to have a seat in Week 10 for breaking team rules.
On the field, Jenkins was much more prone to gambling—and losing—earlier in the season than later. He got cooked in one-on-one coverage on multiple occasions when he guessed wrong and the opposing quarterback made him pay for it. Veteran defensive back Cortland Finnegan says that’s a part of the game, per the Associated Press:
I think there hasn’t been a game where he hasn’t played like a first-rounder…It’s just the life of a defensive back. You get plays made on you, that’s part of it…You learn from them, you get over them, you have a short memory and you go back out there and line up again.
Jenkins’ post-suspension improvement is precisely why he deserves strong consideration for the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year award. It wasn’t necessarily that a light came on while he was on the sidelines—he had made big plays before that—but since mid-November, Jenkins was every bit the rookie that the St. Louis Rams hoped they acquired.
In his past seven games, he blocked a field goal, deflected five passes, recovered a fumble and picked off three balls. Jenkins went above the core tenet of defense, which is to keep the opponent from scoring: He returned all of the turnovers for touchdowns.
The 3 INT return TD by Janoris Jenkins this season tie an NFL rookie record, shared with Lem Barney (1967) and Ronnie Lott (1981)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 23, 2012
That’s just as impressive as it was necessary for St. Louis; Jenkins scored as many touchdowns as Steven Jackson. Only wide receiver Brandon Gibson scored more (five) as a member of the 2012 Rams, and both of those guys play offense.
No defender in the league scored more touchdowns on interception returns than Jenkins. Only All-Pro cornerback Tim Jennings of the Chicago Bears matched his three pick-sixes. Jenkins led the NFL in defensive scores by virtue of his fumble-recovery TD against the NFC champion San Francisco 49ers—and all four came in the second half of the season.
Maybe those stadium sprints helped after all.
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